Receiver Hitch Terminology
First, let’s do a short primer on some terms for the components you will need for a complete receiver hitch towing installation:
Receiver - the square black tube you see on the rear of any vehicle with a hitch installed
Ball Mount - As its name suggests, this metal component inserts into the receiver and holds the hitch ball. These are removable.
Hitch Ball Shank - the hole into which the trailer hitch ball is mounted on the ball mount. Shank diameters range in size from 3/4" to 1-1/4" in diameter as they increase in towing capacity
Shank Length - The larger the hitch ball and shank diameter, the longer the flat surface where the shank is located will be. This is the shank length.
Hitch Ball - The round ball to which the trailer coupler is attached for towing.
A towing starter kit consists of a receiver hitch, ball mount with shank and hitch ball. These are all the components you will need (on the towing vehicle side of the connection) to be able to tow.
Selecting the Best Trailer Hitch for Your Vehicle
If you want to tow a trailer and your car or truck is not equipped with a receiver hitch, it is a fairly simple process to select one. Hitches are made to be vehicle-specific and are generally based on these criteria:
The towing capacity of the vehicle
The configuration of the frame, to which the hitch will be fastened.
The size of receiver you need
Most vehicles have a limited number of hitches that will fit, so if you look by your tow vehicle's year, make and model, it will narrow the selection down quickly. You'll be left with only one or two hitches for each of the manufacturers who make a hitch for that vehicle.
You may simply want to install a trailer hitch so that you can add a receiver hitch accessory, like a bike rack, cargo rack or a wheelchair/scooter carrier. If that is the case, we recommend that you choose a hitch that will allow you to tow the maximum capacity that your vehicle allows. This is just in case you decide to do some towing later.
Your Vehicle and Trailer Weights
Regardless of the towing vehicle, you will need to be aware of both the weight it is able to tow, and the weight of the trailer you want to tow. Stay safe by properly matching your vehicle combination. So the first thing to do is to determine the following weights:
This value can be found in your owner's manual or easily online by searching for your car or trucks specifications. All vehicle specifications list this capacity.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
The maximum weight your towing vehicle can be on its own, including the vehicle, passengers, cargo, and liquids (fuel, etc.)
Gross Trailer Weight (GTW)
All manufactured and licensed trailers are required to have a gross trailer weight. Look in your owner’s manual for the trailer to find this weight. There may also be a sticker or plate somewhere on or in the trailer with this information.
Trailer Tongue Weight
At the same location, you may find a value for the trailer's tongue weight, which is the amount of downward pressure the trailer will put on your hitch ball.
This number is generally 10% of the GTW, but in real life this will vary based on whether the weight of the trailer's contents is concentrated more in the front or rear of the trailer. The published trailer tongue weight assumes that the load is evenly distributed within the trailer.
It is important to try and maintain this balance. A trailer heavy in the front will put more pressure on the rear of the tow vehicle. This will mean less weight on the front wheels, so you may experience a decline in steering effectiveness.
If there is excessive weight in the rear of the trailer, you could experience issues with the stability of the back end of your car or truck. This can mean an increased chance of trailer sway. This condition could also put upward pressure on the coupler/ball connection point, causing the trailer to separate from the towing vehicle.
Gross Combination Weight Rating
For light trucks and larger SUVs, the manufacturer will list a Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR). This is the maximum weight recommended for both vehicles, including passengers, cargo, and fuel, etc. If you are towing a fifth wheel or travel trailer, be sure to count the weight of any water and waste in your freshwater or holding tanks, and the weight of the propane in your LP Gas tanks.
Important: Never tow more than the capacity of the lowest rated component of your towing setup, including the receiver hitch, ball mount, ball, AND the towing vehicle itself.
Trailer Hitches are divided into multiple hitch classes depending on the hitch's weight capacity
Looking for the Right Hitch
The first step is to search by the year make and model of your car or truck to see what classes of hitch are available, and what the available receiver sizes are. It is advisable to get the highest hitch class rating and receiver diameter.
We have reducers and adapters available to size the receiver hole up or down, but you don't want to limit your towing capability if your vehicle can handle it. If you need to tow something heavier than expected, it's better to have a more heavy-duty hitch available.
You might also be concerned about how the vehicle looks on your car or truck. Some manufacturers offer options for both concealed and exposed hitches.
A concealed hitch means the bulk of the hitch is tucked up under the rear of the vehicle. Only the receiver section is visible. You might want to maintain the original look of your vehicle as it came from the manufacturer. On low vehicles, a concealed hitch will not be as likely to scrape on the ground when you're exiting driveways or going over speed bumps.
One of the more popular brands of concealed hitches is the Ecohitch, which is made by Torklift. However, if you have a truck or SUV, the aesthetics may not be important to you.